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Comparing Catlin Gabel to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Programs

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Q&A with Lark Palma, head of school

Edited from a longer piece published in the December 2008 All-School News newsletter.

Students and parents frequently ask me about the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs and how they compare with each other and with Catlin Gabel. Prospective students and their parents ask Traci Jernigan Rossi ’83 and Marsha Trump in the admission office about these programs, too. To help explain to our readers, Karen Katz ’74, communications director, interviewed me about the programs.

What is the history of the AP and IB programs?

In the 1950s educators identified a widening gap between student achievement in high school and college expectations. The AP program was developed to offer college-level curricula and assessment to students in high school. The International Baccalaureate Programme was created in the 1960s at the International School of Geneva to develop consistent curricula at schools in different countries for students whose families moved around the world.

Can you describe the AP and IB programs?

The programs are quite different from each other. One commonality, however, is that both programs establish a point of comparison for students in different schools. AP and IB are offered in a mix of small and large private, public, and international schools.

Advanced Placement is a registered program sponsored by the College Board, which also administers SATs. The AP classes are promoted as college level courses, and some colleges give college credit to students who do well on AP exams. You don’t have to take AP classes to take the AP exams. In fact, we do not offer AP classes, but many Catlin Gabel students take the AP exams and routinely score 4s and 5s (the range is 1 to 5). Paradoxically, we were recently identified by the College Board as having one of the best student success rates in AP math, science, and technology in Oregon and were nominated for the Siemens AP High School Award. However, it turns out we cannot receive the award because Catlin Gabel does not offer AP classes.

The International Baccalaureate Programme offers programs at three age levels: a primary program for students ages 3 to 12, a middle years program for students ages 11 to 16, and a two-year “Diploma Programme” for students aged 16 to 19. In the Portland area only the Beaverton International School offers the middle program. No local schools offer the primary program, although a couple of schools are applying for certification. I will focus on the Diploma Programme, which is offered to juniors and seniors in the United States.

Let’s get back to AP and college credits. How does that work?

Individual colleges decide whether or not they recognize AP credits; some do and some do not. There are ways to advance in college without taking AP tests. Colleges offer their own placement exams, particularly for languages and math. The downside of AP is that you can test out of freshman and sophomore classes that are beneficial building blocks for future academic work. I am a good example of this because I tested into junior English when I entered college. But I feel like I missed the boat by not taking freshman and sophomore classes. I had to learn the hard way about critical writing and constructing a solid research paper. When I entered graduate school I had some catching up to do.

Are Catlin Gabel students at a disadvantage because we don’t offer AP classes?

No. We offer college level courses that allow students to enter higher-level classes in college if they choose. If you are wondering if our students are at a disadvantage in terms of college admission, they are not. College admission offices look at high school profiles to ascertain graduation requirements, grade distributions, college acceptance records, and most relevantly for this conversation, what classes and extras are available to students. If the high school offers an AP program then naturally the colleges seek applicants who have stepped up to the challenge. But if you don’t offer AP classes—and many of the finest schools in the nation do not—then the students are not in jeopardy.

How does the core curriculum for AP differ from Catlin Gabel’s curriculum?

That’s an important question because that’s how Catlin Gabel really distinguishes itself from AP. Students in AP classes are evaluated based on their test scores, pure and simple, so the curriculum is geared toward the test. AP classes emphasize absorbing knowledge and memorizing facts that will appear on the tests. At Catlin Gabel we emphasize depth of understanding, constructing knowledge, and making discoveries. The facts are put into context. In truth, and I am not embarrassed to say this, our students do not do as well on the AP history exams as they do on the math, science, and technology exams because the history test questions are so fact oriented. Our students are accustomed to writing, questioning, discussing, reasoning, and putting history into context — not just memorizing what the teacher or textbook tells them happened on such and such a date.

How does the core curriculum for IB differ from Catlin Gabel’s curriculum?

IB is more akin to what we do at Catlin Gabel. The program is progressive in its approach to learning with an emphasis on critical thinking and providing a liberal arts foundation.

Sounds like you are pretty impressed with IB. Convince me that Catlin Gabel is a better choice.

First of all, I congratulate schools that raise expectations for student achievement. That is vital to turning around education in this country. During rough economic times, I applaud public schools that have figured out how to challenge their brightest students through either the AP or IB programs.

To answer your question, the IB program is impressive, but there are several shortcomings compared to our program. The IB diploma requirements are standardized, and students are, for the most part, locked into a prescribed set of courses. At Catlin Gabel we offer a more individualized approach. For example, a student who is passionate about a subject area can take classes beyond the requirements. Remember, the Diploma Programme is only a two-year program for juniors and seniors. Many students in the IB track are not accepted into the Diploma Programme or fail to meet the criteria for earning the IB diploma, which can be a mark against them in applying to colleges.

One of the capstones of the IB diploma is an extended essay the students write at the end of their senior year. Our students write extended essays in ninth grade and even earlier if they attend our lower grades. IB classes cannot go into as much depth as we can because they have to follow a rigid curriculum. They have set scoring on their tests and projects so their teaching is more standardized. To earn the IB degree, students submit exams and papers to graders in a country other than their own. That means feedback on work is delayed, which is a real detriment to learning. Our students receive feedback quickly through post-test reviews, one-on-one conferences with teachers, and peer edits. Swift reinforcement and critiquing is so important. The IB program and how it is implemented varies tremendously from school to school based on the caliber of the students and the teachers. The local school board, parents, and students have no input into the IB curriculum. To put it in business terms, Catlin Gabel is much more accountable to our clientele

Who is admitted into AP and IB programs in public schools?

The AP and IB programs develop their own selection criteria that differ from school to school. It’s not uncommon for the programs to skim for the highest achieving students, which is fine for those kids, but what about everyone else? At Catlin Gabel we provide equal opportunity for every student to rise to his or her highest ability. One thing I love about Catlin Gabel is that students who excel or struggle in different areas are not segregated from each other. Students who are motivated to take advanced chemistry and biology as seniors hang out with students who finish the three-year science requirement and turn their focus to English and creative writing. We stay connected as a community and students value each other for whatever talents and interests they have.

How is teaching different at Catlin Gabel compared with AP and IB?

Our teachers can shape the curriculum to meet the interests of the students. They can shift the content of a lesson to make it meaningful and relevant to students by letting the students lead the conversation, try the experiment a different way, or present findings unconventionally. Of course, we have an end goal of what we want the students to learn, but getting there can take twists and turns that engage and excite. We allow our teachers the autonomy to teach what they are passionate about. That is the key to inspiring students. We depend on highly skilled, excellent teachers because they create the curriculum and are expected to teach to each student’s learning style and ability. Our teachers’ educations, our mission, small class sizes, student-teacher relationships, and the intellectual risk-taking we encourage generate the learning bonanza that makes Catlin Gabel exceptional.


The Mandate for Teaching History Well: A Farewell From Outgoing Head of School Lark Palma

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From the Spring 2014 Caller

By Lark P. Palma

If taught well and thoughtfully, history helps a student develop a unique capacity for comprehending human situations. It fuels a conversation about the importance of action from the lessons of history. It’s meaningful to me that my last article for the Caller is about history and social studies, as I believe history is the single most powerful discipline for analyzing the past, living the present, and predicting the future. Most importantly, studying history well helps us become thoughtful, informed, and committed to exercising our rights as citizens, especially our right and privilege to vote. This issue is a testament to how well our superb faculty teaches history, and their eagerness to fine-tune the curriculum, create experiences that make history immediate and important, and seek connections to social, political, artistic, and economic situations.
Recently, when packing boxes to move back to South Carolina, I came across my 8th grade required history text, The History of South Carolina by Mary C. Sims Oliphant. She found it adequate to talk about slavery for one and a half pages, and the glorious generals of the “War Between the States” for several chapters. The economic justifications for slavery were never connected to the immorality of the war. What if I hadn’t come from a progressive family that had lively debates at the dinner table? What if I had not been exposed to any other points of view? My ability to participate in our fundamental right to express our citizenship would be severely compromised.
Catlin Gabel and the teachers who teach history and social studies understand well the mandate of their work.
• Students learn how the past shapes the present and probably informs the future. The Transitional Justice course clearly shows the direct effect of a law, its enactment, and the success of social change as a result.
• Students learn to develop empathy by reading original texts written by the people experiencing the events. For instance, 6th graders study the context of the Civil War and write a first-person journal.
• They learn to read critically to distinguish between evidence and assertion and understand competing points of view. In doing so, they learn to interrogate the text and artifacts, make hypotheses, and draw conclusions so that they extract every bit of meaning. Through these interrogations, students come up with real questions. Who is not represented in the study of history, and why? Why is the history of real lives of the poor, women, minority groups, or children so sparse in relationship to the history of political leaders, wars, politics, treaties, and policies? Why isn’t there more work published by women and minorities? In a sense students are calling for a wider exposure and deeper content to intensify their understanding of the course of history.
The study of history reveals its evolving narrative. Students learn that what happened in the past is not the final truth, so what they study and how they study it has to change. Courses that have been added to the Catlin Gabel curriculum include Middle Eastern studies, the Sixties, 9-11, Islam, gender studies, and other courses that emphasize social history and bring in more interdisciplinary learning.
I leave Catlin Gabel this summer to contemplate a curriculum for another school, in Charleston, South Carolina. The first plaque acknowledging that city’s role in the slave trade was erected in the 1990s. It is clear how the teaching of history should develop there, with the city itself as the curriculum. If any of you travel there, I will be a willing and proud guide. I will miss Catlin Gabel deeply. I will miss writing for the Caller, but there are books and blogs inside me ready to emerge.

College list for Catlin Gabel 2014 seniors

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Here's where the class of 2014 is going to college!

(as of 5/22/14)
Amherst College
Barnard College
Bates College
Berklee College of Music
University of British Columbia, Okanagan
Brown University
Case Western Reserve University
Chapman University
University of Chicago
Claremont McKenna College
Colorado College (2)
Colby College
University of Denver (2)
DePaul University
Dickinson College
Hamilton College, NY
Harvey Mudd College
University of La Verne
Lewis & Clark College
Macalester College
McGill University
Montana State University, Bozeman
Mount Holyoke College (2)
New York University (2)
University of Notre Dame
Oberlin College
Occidental College
Oregon State University
University of Oregon (2)
Portland State University
University of Portland (2)
Princeton University (2)
University of Puget Sound (3)
University of Redlands
Reed College
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rice University
School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2)
Scripps College (3)
Smith College
University of Southern California (2)
Southern Oregon University (2)
Stanford University
Swarthmore College (3)
Tufts University
Tulane University (2)
Union College
Whitman College (5)
Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Meet Catlin Gabel's New Head, Timothy Bazemore

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From the Winter 2014 Caller

By Steve Gordon, chair of the board of trustees
Lark Palma leaves Catlin Gabel this summer with an outstanding legacy and the respect and affection of a generation of students. I will miss Lark and wish her the best as she moves to the next chapter in her life—leaving mighty big shoes to fill.
On the recommendation of the diligent and hardworking search committee, the board in October appointed Timothy Bazemore as Catlin Gabel’s next head. We have complete confidence that Tim is precisely the right leader for the school. In all our talks with him, he has shown us without a doubt that he will continue Lark’s work establishing Catlin Gabel as one of the country’s premier independent, progressive schools, and that the school will flourish with him at the helm. The board and I are excited to work with Tim, and committed to promoting a seamless transition in the school’s leadership. Tim will begin his journey at Catlin Gabel on July 1, and I hope that all of you will welcome him to our extended community.
Tim has been the head of school at New Canaan Country School, a preschool–grade 9 coeducational school for 630 students in Connecticut, since 2000. He is a proven leader with invaluable experience as both a classroom teacher and an administrator in independent schools. He brings to Catlin Gabel wisdom, humanity, and an exceptional background in progressive education and commitment to our lasting values: diversity, sustainability, and innovation in the classroom.
“I am tremendously excited and honored to join the Catlin Gabel community next year,” wrote Tim. “During the search process, I was impressed by the energy, joy, and sense of purpose shared by everyone I met on campus. Under Lark Palma’s inspired leadership, the faculty and staff have created an extraordinary learning environment. I look forward to working in partnership with teachers and parents to ensure that every Catlin Gabel student benefits from a dynamic progressive education in the years ahead.” Lark and Tim have instituted monthly “leadership chats” that will continue all this year.
Tim wrote about his educational philosophy: “We believe that all children are competent and capable. We communicate confidence in their thinking and build relationships based on trust and encouragement. We design experiences that incorporate the information and skills students need with opportunities to develop resilience, creativity, and curiosity. We introduce students to new phenomena, situations, and concepts and ask them to think critically and take risks. We seek to create a wonderful tension, a dissonance between the known and unknown that leads to understanding. . . . “The best schools commit to creating a healthy and inclusive school community. They teach students how to collaborate with others in meaningful ways. They are explicit and intentional in fostering character skills and core values. I firmly believe that progressive education provides the most effective preparation for a future of innovation and opportunity. It is plausible, and essential, for education to be creative and experiential and rigorous and practical. I did not know this when I began my teaching career, but I do now. That is the future of education.”
Born and raised in Lewiston, New York, Tim earned a BA in history from Middlebury College and an MA in history from the University of Pennsylvania. He began his career as a 6th–12th grade humanities teacher at Chestnut Hill Academy, a K–12 school of 550 students in Philadelphia, and moved from classroom teacher to director of middle and upper school admissions, then to head of the middle school. He and his wife, Lisa, have two sons, Luke, 15, and Tyler, 23.

An Exaltation of Lark

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Catlin Gabel community members express their apprecation of Catlin Gabel's longtime leader

From the Winter 2014 Caller

Jesse Lowes, Middle School science teacher

I’ll always remember how excited I was to join the Catlin Gabel faculty following Lark’s address during school in-service, when she pushed us all to think big, to take risks, and to make connections with people across the school. It was then when I first saw clearly Lark’s bold spirit, deep convictions, and steadfast heart.

Sophie Fyfield ’10, senior at Mt. Holyoke College

Lark has always been at the forefront of my Catlin Gabel experience. Whether we were munching on fresh crabs on the coast of Turkey or discussing Jane Eyre and Lolita in her office for a Feminism seminar, she has been a remarkable source of inspiration, encouragement, and generosity.

Hannah Whitehead, head of Beginning School

Lark has made Catlin Gabel great by supporting the faculty in their investigating and trying new ideas. The school is a much more collegial place now than it was when she arrived, with a better articulated curriculum and a clearer mission.

Karen Katz ’74, communications director

The best thing Lark ever did for Catlin Gabel was commit 19 years of her life to our school. Our programs and campus have blossomed because of her enduring leadership.

Charles Walsh, choral music teacher, Upper & Middle School

On the day I interviewed at Catlin Gabel I sat with Lark for about 15 minutes. We talked about how important is is for young people to be exposed to arts education and about how lacking arts were in the daily lives of American youth. I fought back tears only because I thought, “I’m meeting my potential boss, I can’t cry!” That moment will never leave me because I knew then I had found what I had been looking for.

Courtney Mersereau ’99, financial advisor, RBC Wealth Management

Lark’s passion for empowering women is something I admire and have now adopted in my own profession. I can’t help but think that she planted the seed when she helped me through a tough time in the Upper School. She was present, listened, and made a point of instilling in me that I was okay just as I was.

Len Carr ’75, assistant head of Middle School

I will miss Lark’s eternal optimism, can-do approach, and her giving us permission and urging us to push the educational envelope. And I’ll always remember Lark taking the entire faculty to Eagle Crest for our August retreat—it was an incredible community builder.

Holly Walsh, Middle School English

No matter the time, date, or weather, Lark was always excited to hear what we were up to in 8th grade English. Over the years, I’ve found her passion for literature and feminism to be as strong as her ability to “cut the rug.” My relationship with Lark changed the very moment our Upper School jazz band began to play Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” I quickly learned how our distinguished head of school was a dancing machine! It’s indisputable that Lark Palma is a woman with soul.

Chris Bell, Middle School administrative assistant

Lark has made Catlin Gabel great by providing the leadership and support for all adults at this school to try something new, educationally and personally.

Miranda Wellman ’91, director of advancement

I love learning about different leadership styles. What I’ve come to know about Lark’s is that she only tolerates incremental change for so long. When she’s sees an opportunity that will spark innovation, she goes for it. In this way, I think of her as a “lightning bolt” leader. She is bold and unafraid to jump into the new.

Photo: Lark Palma building the playground with former head Manvel "Schauff" Schauffler
, 1995

Think You Know Lark Palma?

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Take this quiz and find out1

From the Winter 2014 Caller

By Karen Katz '74, communications director

1. Lark once taught 5th graders
A. Shag dancing
B. Swing dancing
C. Tap dancing
2. Lark’s first capital project at Catlin Gabel was
A. The track and field
B. The Beehive remodel
C. The community-built playground
3. Lark made her debut as head of Catlin Gabel School at
A. The first day of school 1995–96
B. The past trustees dinner, June 1995
C. Alumni weekend, June 1995
4. The first person Lark hired at Catlin Gabel was
A. Paul Monheimer, 7th grade world cultures
B. Pam McComas, Beginning School head
C. Lynn Silbernagel, Middle School librarian
5. Lark dressed as which character for Halloween 1999?
A. Snow White’s evil stepmother
B. The Queen of Hearts
C. Raggedy Ann
6. Lark’s PhD is in
A. English literature and western drama
B. Twentieth-century British literature and women’s studies
C. Education and gender studies
7. The P in Lark P. Palma stands for
A. Patricia
B. Perkins
C. Pickett
8. A group of larks is
A. A charm
B. An aerie
C. An exaltation
9. Lark is phobic about
A. Velcro
B. Spiders
C. Buttons
10. One of Lark’s favorite expressions is
A. That dog don’t hunt
B. Busy as a cat on a hot tin roof
C. He could start an argument in an empty house
11. Lark Palma is
A. Catlin Gabel’s longest serving head of school
B. The first female head of school since Catlin and Gabel merged
C. The only head of school to teach English
1–A. 2–C. 3–B. 4–B. 5–A. 6–B. 7–C. 8–C. 9–C. 10–A. 11–A.

Lark Leaves a Legacy

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From the Winter 2014 Caller

Catlin Gabel experienced great and well-considered growth during Lark Palma’s 19 years as head of school. Here are just some of the advances the school made, thanks to her leadership and the work and commitment of students, faculty-staff, alumni, families, friends, and supporters.


“There is philosophical grounding for this school that is precious and important to preserve and develop: the experiential nature of our curriculum, the commitment to being a learning laboratory, the emphasis on respect and self-reliance, the intellectual challenge of the program, the value of this natural setting, and the willingness to be different from those around us when we feel it is in the best interest of the children. . . . My vision is an exceptional experience for every child and parent, and a lively teaching environment for faculty.” (2002)


  • Encouraged growth in educational technology and campus infrastructure
  • Created the curriculum map to begin the conversation to unify education across divisions and disciplines
  • Worked with the community to develop a school mission statement
  • Enhanced professional development opportunities for faculty-staff
  • Intensified emphasis on community service, college counseling, and learning center
  • Increased the budget for financial aid, from about $600,000 to more than $3 million
  • Connected Catlin Gabel more strongly with the wider community
  • Led development of strategic plan and crucial guiding directions
  • Oversaw three fundraising campaigns and countless initiatives, which contributed $60 million to the school
  • Encouraged education about brain research and its relation to teaching and learning
  • Oversaw the rise of the school’s endowment, from $9 million in 1995 to $26 million today, with $38 million projected at campaign end
  • Increased emphasis on diversity, sustainability, and financial security
  • Worked with the faculty to re-imagine the future of the US curriculum, undertaking research on advances in education
  • Revitalized the outdoor and global education programs, and was a founding member of the Global Online Academy
  • Introduced and supported new programs such as Mandarin language, robotics, Palma Scholars Program, PLACE urban studies, and the Global Online Academy
  • Taught literature and women’s studies classes to a generation of students


Creative Arts Center
Long-held dream achieved in this new 2013 building, bringing together US and MS arts
Lark brought the community together in 1995 to build this center of young student life
US science and math buildings
New construction in 1998 and lab additions in 2008 to unite these subjects and take advantage of technology
Murphy Athletic Complex track and field facilities
Rebuilt and re-engineered in 1999 with state-of-the-art materials and features
Dant House
Remodeled in 2007 to better serve students and faculty
Jean Vollum Humanities Center
Former library renovated in 2007 for humanities classrooms
Beginning School
Beehive remodeled in 2000 to reunite preschool and kindergarten
James F. Miller Library
Newly built in 2003 to accommodate technology and scope of US student use, added multimedia auditorium and meeting space
Hillman Modern Languages Building
Built in 2003 to give a home to language classrooms
Facilities building
Built in 2001 as temporary US classrooms

Lark's Profound Influence

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From the Winter 2014 Caller

Pamela Gibson

Past trustee and parent of alumni
A leader is best when people barely know she exists. When her work is done, her aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves. —Lao Tzu
I have to remind myself that I was asked to write about Lark from the perspective of a board member, because the outcome of her work that is visible to me every day comes from my perspective as a parent. It is this very work, though, that was going on in the boardroom. One of the strengths of Lark’s leadership has been her laser focus in making certain that all work that took place at Catlin Gabel, whether at the board level or in the classroom, must have as its result a profound benefit to the student, as well as an impact on the common good.
I was there at the beginning, when Lark brought the world to Catlin Gabel. Diversity was a sadly overused word at the time, but she had a deep understanding of what that word meant. She set about teaching us all—faculty-staff, parents, children, and donors—the critical importance of having a truly diverse community. She envisioned the world our children would ultimately live in, and configured their education to prepare them to thrive and contribute.
Consistent, visionary leadership is Lark’s legacy. It is manifested in the core values that have remained constant throughout her tenure. It is reflected in the new spaces that have been built as tools that serve and nourish learning. It will live on in the accomplishments of the thousands of students who learned and grew on her watch.
And yes, we did it ourselves. Stellar faculty, dedicated staff, industrious students, caring parents, alumni, donors, and board members did it. Employing her charming, quiet strength, she challenged us to make it so.

Kate Grant

Director of college counseling
I met Lark 15 years ago when I came to Catlin Gabel for my job interview. Imagine my surprise when I found she was from the same small town in South Carolina where my mother had grown up. Immediately I felt a connection that has lasted through the years, and I hope will continue through many more.
What struck me about Lark that day holds true today: a steadfast love of Catlin Gabel and a commitment to keep its well-being first and foremost in her mind; a focus on the school as a whole and, at the same time, an appreciation for the uniqueness of each student, teacher, and staff member; an appreciation of the importance of the stories each student tells and needs to hear to develop the confidence to enter the world beyond Catlin Gabel. Lark is a respected leader on campus and off—an innovator in education. Lark’s view of education as a social and moral issue strengthens her—and our—commitment to becoming a more inclusive community. Her English and Feminism courses help students appreciate their own experiences and backgrounds. I remember a student telling me that the first time the literary canon reflected her own experiences was in one of Lark’s classes.
On a personal note, Lark has been a mentor and supporter for many of us. I am grateful to her for giving me opportunities to expand my role in the school, supporting my professional and personal development, and listening with an open heart to all that I say. I know others feel the same way and, like me, will miss her vibrant and innovative approach to education, learning, teaching, and being. She is a brave woman. In the words of Mona Eltahawy, last year’s commencement speaker, “I wish I could have gone to a school where Lark was the head.”

Christopher Reimann ’13

First-year student at Whitman College
I spent six years of school watching Lark lead meetings with high-powered members of the Catlin Gabel community, reading her letters to the school, and watching her whiz around campus on her golf cart. In my senior year of high school I finally got to know Lark through her Feminism class. I distinctly remember walking into the class for the first time, feeling more intimidated than any other time before. What awaited me was a year of simple enlightenments I had never imagined. On the first day of class we spent the majority of the time talking about the importance of names, what they mean, and how our names defined us. Little bits of knowledge like this show Lark’s power as a teacher. Until that point I had never really thought of my name as more than a superficial piece of my identity, a classification with which others easily refer to me. I left class that day realizing that my name had a story and identity, separate from me. It takes a special type of teacher to take something as simple as a name, and help students realize the profound weight of it.
Aspects of Lark’s unique style of teaching have found their way into every classroom on campus. While she is moving on to the next page in her life, if you pay close attention, little quirks of Lark will come out in every classroom for years to come. Catlin Gabel and its students have been so lucky to have a teacher and head of school like Lark, and wherever she goes next is sure to know that soon enough.

Dave Cannard ’76

Past trustee and board chair, parent of alumni
I first encountered Lark’s generous mentoring as a fledgling trustee as she introduced me to my new responsibilities, in a role I’d haphazardly fallen into when the preceding alumni board chair had a sudden job transfer out of state. Little did I know then that it would lead to almost 20 years of friendship anchored in our shared passion for Catlin Gabel.
Not the sharpest tool in the shed, I’ve spent hundreds of hours in the head’s office being gently schooled. As I took on different roles, Lark adjusted the lessons, showed how I could be more effective, how I could remain true to my core and reach for the next step in realizing the potential of the school for students.
It’s in Lark’s nature to mentor, to pass on her wisdom, her vast learning, her enthusiasm and dedication for great student learning. She always has an encouraging word, an ever-more challenging lesson, a gentle reminder about priority—the students—and often a suggestion for me for an article, book, or workshop so I could gain more depth.
It is inherent in her everyday activities and interactions; there is constant encouragement, a fond nudging towards her driving vision. It all ties back to the vision, an inclusive, challenging, and relentless vision of what Catlin Gabel can and should be. Rooted in the progressive tradition, great teachers applying cutting-edge pedagogy, developing students who are compassionate, who think, and who act to change the world. She never loses sight of the vision, even when mired in the details. She mentors all of us—students, parents, faculty, staff, administrators, and friends—to be champions of that vision. The outstanding team she has developed around her attests to the compelling success of Lark’s approach.
The school stands ready for its next leader, confident in who we are, excited about what we can be, champing at the bit to stretch towards the vision. We can do this! We can do it because Lark showed us how.   

Looking Back with Lark Palma

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An interview with Lark about her 19 years at Catlin Gabel and what it means to her

From the Winter 2014 Caller

By Nadine Fiedler

What will you miss most about students and colleagues?
I cherish the inventive conversations I have with kids, when they dream about their futures. I’ll miss the teachers and my conversations with them, which always left me entertained and edified. Catlin Gabel has excelled in the fundamentals about getting it right for kids and getting it right for faculty, which has so many nuances and so many opportunities. Every day I have come to work feeling excited, and feeling that what’s happening matters. The years galloped past!
What do you think Catlin Gabel’s place is right now, and how has it evolved since you’ve been here?
When I sit around a table with other school heads from around the country, all eyes turn and ears perk up about some of the programs we have and the things we are doing. I’m struck by how unique and respected we seem to be in the sea of schools. We distinguish ourselves by always surveying our mission, and then examining the cultural, economic, and political landscape around us in Portland and in the Northwest. We’re widely known. Just a few examples: We have one of the leading Orff music educators in the world. Our math specialists have written books and spoken at numerous conferences. Our urban studies program has had national attention. The Palma Scholars seminar has gone on the road as an example of how you foster innovative curriculum in a school. We’re nationally known for sustainability and how a school can turn its curriculum and all its practices, including finances, into a sustainability model. Many of our service programs put students directly into the community working cooperatively with social groups, as well as city government. We’re making a difference in our city by designing parks, by developing the transit mall, by working with the Water Bureau for clean water. Our program of overseas trips has become more refined and meaningful. All of our programs are important when you’re trying to be a progressive school that considers all the dimensions of a child’s development.
What were some of your happiest moments of your years at Catlin Gabel?
Groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings always filled me with pride for the school. Every time it meant that people understood what the school needs.
It was a great day when my women’s studies students started a blog and there were many, many hits on it, because it meant that what we were talking about went to a wide audience.
I had a lot of fun seeing the Palma Scholars Program develop, and seeing the successful teamwork develop behind it.
It’s been a thrill each time the community’s gotten together some way or other to talk about the future of the school. I remember being excited by the hopes and dreams of these groups—and we’ve accomplished so much of them. The Vision 2020 planning conference helped the school define future needs—and out of that came increased emphasis on urban and global studies.
I was pleased when the board ratified the five-year plan to set strategic directions for the school, and how as a school we’ve really tried to stick to them.
The head search process gave me a lot of pride and happiness.
My first Rummage Sale was amazing. You really can’t believe it!
I’ll never forget tap dancing at the Gambol.

The four years my grandson Liam was at the school were joyful for me.

I’ll never forget the day that then-development director Johanna Thoeresz and I picked up a million-dollar check from Jimmy Miller, and we gave him a ride home. He wanted to stop and get strawberries and cream to take home, and tried to give Johanna some money. She said, “You know, today we’ll buy you the strawberries and cream.”
The day that I announced to the Upper School faculty that Dan Griffiths would be their head was amazing. I never heard such thunderous adulation. I felt so good because lots of people were happy, and we had used a good process.
I was so tickled the first week of this school year to overhear students’ reactions to the new Creative Arts Center. “Omigod! Have you been over there yet?” And I loved it when the preschoolers were sitting in the CAC courtyard having their snack in early September.
I had such a good time having late-night conversations at retreats, and antics around the campfire at Camp Cody with seniors and with faculty at Eagle Creek.
When I see students in the Miller Library, or running around, or engaged in sports, I think it’s just what a school should be.
I love the excitement for special traditions, whether it’s the preschool or kindergarten parades, or rolling the oatcake. And I love every year watching the 5th, 8th, and 12th graders move forward, and seeing what the seniors will give me during graduation.
Why did you choose Catlin Gabel?
I was at the progressive Heathwood Hall in South Carolina for 18 years, beginning as a teacher and ending as associate head, running the school’s operations and academic programs. I came to realize that I was ready to do the work of a school head. I knew I wanted to continue working in progressive education, and Catlin Gabel was the right fit for me. A school like Catlin Gabel works because we have the independence to make choices for our kids. There are truly wonderful champions of progressive education here who understand how to take their subjects and make it work for the appropriate needs of the kids. I think progressive education is going to prevail.
What was your mission when you took the reins at Catlin Gabel?
My mission was to create a stronger Upper School program, and the buildings and annual support to keep it going. I was charged with setting up a realistic evaluation system for faculty, and providing requisite professional development. I came into a school with a good infrastructure and finances, with a mature board. After going through charettes led by architect Tom Hacker, we came up with the village concept for the architecture of the Upper School. Over the years, in both the Upper School and the rest of campus, we completed the playground, beautiful science labs, track and field facilities, and a new math building. We worked on the Beginning School to get the kindergarten out from under the Barn and built the beautiful, inspirational library and modern languages building.
Where would you like to see the school continue to grow?
Our challenges will always be connected to resources. This is why a dedicated push for endowment and the Catlin Gabel Fund every year is so important. It’s a challenge to create a conduit for alumni to continue to know each other, and for us to know them as adults. It’s a challenge for parents and the students who are going on to college or some other meaningful next step to remember the importance of what they got at Catlin Gabel, and that it all happened because of alumni and parents. If the school does not become more diverse, we will cease to be relevant. We need to look seriously at the spectrum of our learners and make sure that every learner that we invite into the school has a level playing field.
What would you like to reflect on for posterity?
Don’t take any of this for granted. Come to school every day knowing that you’re coming to a special place. Whether there are annoyances, or fatigue, or problems to be solved, just take a breath, step back, and look at the trees, smell the air, stand in the middle of any of these beautiful quads, and say, “I’m so damned lucky to be here.” I’ve done that every single day for almost 19 years.
Love and respect what the other does. Honor the staffers who make the lives of teachers and students the best they can be. Everybody should thank everybody every day. Get to know each other!
I want alumni to stay close to their school and reflect often on what they got out of Catlin Gabel. Think about the friends, the teachers, a day in class when you had a breakthrough, the talks around the campfire, and the many bus trips. Think about where you got your ability to speak, your ability to communicate and analyze and develop strong argumentation; where you got all your baseline abilities in science and math and then some; your ability to now go out into the world and speak a language and be understood; and where you may have for the only time in your life played a varsity sport or painted a painting that you still have. Close your eyes and smell and hear the Paddock, watch the sunset down on the athletic fields and the crows in the winter and the geese on the pathways in the spring. That will make you remember why it’s important that the school’s in your mind and heart all the time.
What kept you here at Catlin Gabel so long, and what’s next for you?
I am returning to my home state to help found a new progressive school in Charleston, South Carolina. All of my family now lives on the East Coast. I always knew I would return there; I did not predict I would be here so long. But the beauty of the school gets in your blood, the beauty of the city and the state get under your skin, and I’ve stayed at Catlin Gabel these many years for the very same reasons that I came. Without pretense or excessive fanfare, Catlin Gabel gets it right for kids—a lively, stimulating, challenging curriculum in and out of the classroom, on the athletic fields, and in the community. It gets it right for faculty—in encouraging them to grow and create a culture of collegiality and high professionalism, to be the best in their fields and the best in understanding what unlocks young, flexible minds within a framework that allows for great independence and creativity. I wish our new head Tim Bazemore the same wonderful journey that I have had, and that he stays true to the progressive mission of our school, deepening our position in the community, extending truly progressive programs and policies and keeping financial aid endowment in front of the school community. I know he will.
Nadine Fiedler is editor of the Caller and Catlin Gabel’s director of publications and public relations.

Scholars Program Named to Honor Lark Palma

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The first step in a year of celebrating Lark's leadership

From the Summer 2013 Caller

By Steve Gordon, chair of the Catlin Gabel board of trustees 

This is a year for celebration—a celebration of where we’ve been, where we’re going, and Lark Palma’s contribution to our journey. This is Lark’s last year as Catlin Gabel’s head. For nearly two decades, she has completely dedicated herself to guiding the school to the fullest expression of its mission.
Honoring Lark this year begins with a fitting tribute from Phil and Penny Knight—the renaming of the Knight Family Scholars Program to the Palma Scholars Program. The Knights appreciated Lark’s vision for innovating curriculum and broadening our admission reach. In Phil’s own words:
“In celebration and recognition of Lark Palma’s remarkable career at Catlin Gabel and the legacy she leaves, as she embarks on her final year as head of school, the Knight Family Scholars Program will now and forever be referred to as the Palma Scholars Program. To be consistent with future recipients and to not confuse the community, all eight prior recipients will be deemed to be the Palma Scholars. Congratulations to Lark.”
The Palma Scholars Program brings in exceptional 9th graders—excelling in academics, athletics, leadership, and service—and provides all Catlin Gabel Upper School students with new ways to learn based on collaboration and creativity. The program prepares tomorrow’s leaders with an inspired curriculum that we hope will serve as a model for our nation’s high schools.
Lark’s expansive vision for education has also focused on increasing the availability of a great education. From the start of her teaching career she has believed in the importance of financial aid and the necessity for a school community that would represent the wider community. “We could not deliver the kind of education we want to without diverse voices,” she says. “I am confident that through all means possible, including increased financial assistance, the school will continue to incorporate this wide range of voices and cultural values.
”When Lark was told about the honors planned for her, she said, “I’m proud to have my name on the Scholars Program for 9th graders, and to be associated with our general financial aid endowment benefiting students of all ages. All my life I have believed that the best way to provide equality is to provide access to education. This is an irrefutable truth.”
To kick off this celebratory year and acknowledge Lark’s abiding interest in financial aid, the board and I invite you to join us in honoring Lark in one of these ways:
• Make a gift to the Palma Scholars Program to benefit Upper School students
• Make a gift to Catlin Gabel’s general financial aid endowment fund for students of all ages demonstrating need
These are fitting tributes to Lark, who has dedicated her career to attracting excellent students regardless of their ability to pay tuition, and creating an innovative and vibrant curriculum and a secure financial future for Catlin Gabel.
Please join us this year as we continue to recognize Lark’s extraordinary leadership. To make gifts to the Palma Scholars Program or Catlin Gabel’s financial aid endowment in Lark’s honor, please email Miranda Wellman ’91, director of advancement, or call 503-297-1894 ext. 398.

Join Me in This Campaign

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From the Summer 2013 Caller

By Lark P. Palma PhD, Head of School

Launching a campaign is an exhilarating moment! I still remember that 2008 board meeting when we all debated the troubled economic environment versus the school’s opportunities and greatest needs. We ended with a unanimous vote to unapologetically go for it and raise $20 million for two purposes. Catlin Gabel’s “Campaign for Arts & Minds” is a reflection of those highest priorities.

The power of creativity! Our students must hone their ability to think creatively, to problem solve when there isn’t a formula, and to venture forward where there is no path. Learning and practicing the arts translate into these skills, and will make a lifelong difference for our students. We are building a creative hub for Middle and Upper School students that will inspire people the second they walk into the building, thanks to architect Brad Cloepfil and the Allied Works team. When dreaming of this space, the faculty were asked “How do you want students to feel when they walk through the front doors?” and I’ve never forgotten the answer I heard: “Like they’re entering a creative cathedral.” The 20,000-square-foot “cathedral” will open this fall— and I will be standing in front of those doors, watching the students’ faces light up as they walk through.

Imagine more! A school’s endowment is really about just that: imagining what more we could do and be. A healthy endowment means the difference between incremental change and being able to take leaps and bounds. It means saying yes to more incredibly talented students who cannot pay full tuition. It means a source of income to launch new programs and hire the country’s best faculty with relevant specialties and the desire to experiment in teaching in order to inspire every student. In short, endowment is the freedom to act on dreams.
Today, we face the final stretch of this incredibly successful campaign but we have yet to cross the finish line. We welcome you to join this chapter in Catlin Gabel’s history. Stand with me in honoring the impact our alumni have on the world, and the efforts to prepare our current students for a world that needs them, too.

How to Teach Boys & Girls Equitably

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Creating conditions where everyone flourishes

 From the Winter 2012-13 Caller

By Barbara Ostos & Lark P. Palma

A short history of equity in education

The education of boys and girls has been debated since the establishment of formal education in the United States. At the end of the 18th century, society’s established gender roles, cultural norms, and perceived futures for boys and girls resulted in boys being granted higher educational opportunities than girls, for the most part. Colonial expansion demanded more literacy of women who were often involved in family businesses, leading to increased equity for girls’ education—but this was often still segregated and not the same as that of the boys. America’s westward expansion led to more coeducational opportunities, because population was small and educating boys and girls together made financial sense. Depending on state and private or public school systems during this period, education became more accessible for both genders, but access did not necessarily mean equality.
The passage of Title IX in 1972 made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex in public schools in athletics, financial aid, career counseling, admission practices, and the treatment of students. Two years later, the Women’s Educational Equity Act provided support to schools to recruit girls for math, science, and athletic programs. Teachers received training to increase awareness of possible gender bias in the curriculum and their pedagogy. Twenty years later, the American Association of University Women commissioned a study, completed by the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, that challenged the common assumption that girls and boys were being treated equally in public schools. They reported that girls do not receive equitable amounts of teacher attention, are less apt to see themselves reflected in the materials they study, and often are not expected or encouraged to pursue higher-level math and science. This report, with its 40 recommendations, sparked a 20-year debate on how best to teach boys and girls and the nature of single-gender and coeducational schools.

What do we know now that’s different?

Because of advances in brain science and educational research since those days, we are now able to pose a question that could not have been asked or answered in the 1700s, 1972, 1992, or even 2002: What do we know about boys and girls that informs how they learn? Girls’ and boys’ brains are different, and these differences manifest themselves in how they learn. As a coeducational school, Catlin Gabel is committed to serving both genders well in an environment that allows them to thrive and enjoy each day of school.
For many years, debate over structural differences in the brain due to gender has been lively. Myriad theories have been posited, but what is broadly accepted is that different regions of the brain develop in a different sequence in the two genders. For instance, researchers reported at a recent National Association for Single Sex Public Education (NASSPE) conference that while the areas of the brain involved in language and fine motor skills mature earlier in girls than boys, the areas of the brain involved in targeting and spatial memory mature earlier in boys. As reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, this type of insight connects
Differences in how the two genders learn are most pronounced at the younger ages and transcend personality and cultural constructs. Girls tend to evaluate themselves more judgmentally than boys, hold themselves to a higher standard in the traditional classroom environment, and tend to outperform boys in school (as reported at NASSPE). Ironically, girls are more likely to be excessively critical of themselves and lack self-confidence, while boys demonstrate high estimates of their abilities and are more confident than girls. Not surprising, psychologists have found that motivation for boys and girls also tends to differ. Eva Pomerantz and Jill Saxton wrote in the journal Child Development that girls are more concerned than boys are with pleasing adults, while boys are motivated by material that interests them personally.

Strategies to guarantee success

Knowing these differences between the genders, what are some strategies coeducational schools can use to help guarantee the equitable success of both boys and girls? How does Catlin Gabel address this challenge for the benefit of all students?
The core values that guide teaching and learning at Catlin Gabel lay the best foundation for coeducational teaching: relationships, spirit of inquiry, community, critical and creative thinking, experiential learning, and integrity. Student confidence and success build on the relationships students develop with their teachers and each other. As described on Catlin Gabel’s website, “Students learn in a social context that colors their experience and impacts their learning. Teachers understand that relationships provide fertile ground for learning and strive to create the kind of classroom in which students are free to discuss, disagree, formulate ideas, and wonder.”
The spirit of inquiry at Catlin Gabel supports students’ confidence in asking questions, independent thinking, and respect for diverse views. The voices of boys and girls in the room enhance the learning environment and foster curiosity, openness to differing perspectives, and the desire to keep learning. Children learn to become competent, caring, respectful, contributing members of a community at school—just as in communities outside of school, where a diverse group of men and women work together. Sharing community from an early age at a school that gives credence to all student voices allows boys and girls to learn how to communicate and collaborate with one another.
We strive to create conditions that encourage students to know the power of their own ideas, develop new-to-them ways of doing things, be able to think inventively and reason well, and critically assess ideas and events. A school that encourages creativity, teaches critical thinking and analysis, and supports discussion with broad perspectives from both genders provides for the development of thoughtfulness and confidence for both girls and boys.
Experiential education means that students learn through real and direct exposure to places, events, and people. Active learning helps both boys and girls learn deeply and retain their experience and connections. Exploring beliefs and values in a setting where students listen to and begin to understand others’ points of view gives them the freedom to explore their own core beliefs, then test and revise them—all within the context of a supportive community. Helping students develop integrity and understand its value is an important goal at Catlin Gabel.
In addition to the school’s core approach to working with students, other aspects of Catlin Gabel’s philosophy lead to the success of a coeducational environment. Reading and discussing issues that connect to the real world, as well as to students’ lives, builds a foundation upon which students can have strong opinions and feelings. The curriculum strives to make connections for students and asks them to speak about their thoughts and feelings. The ability to confidently verbalize ideas is a lifelong skill that leads to success across disciplines for students. As a coeducational environment, when appropriate, we can separate boys and girls to address various issues or dynamics. For instance, during human sexuality and health classes when discussing sensitive issues, separation can provide a level of comfort for discussion. Students appreciate these divisions, but often comment that while they like it for a little while, they are glad to be reunited. While teaching pedagogy is at the core of creating an environment that balances the needs of boys and girls, perhaps the most important factor for successful coeducation is having teachers of both genders so students can see themselves reflected in their classroom leader. At Catlin Gabel we are fortunate that all divisions benefit from male and female teachers.
While the beginnings of education were androcentric, education in the U.S. has become accessible to both genders. Science has allowed us to better understand brain development of boys and girls, leading to thoughtful discourse on how to best serve students in a co– educational environment. Catlin Gabel’s progressive roots and our commitment to community and respect allow the school to feel confident in its service to both boys and girls now, and for many years to come.
Barbara Ostos has been Middle School head since 2011. She holds an EdD in educational leadership from the University of California, San Diego, an MA in nonprofit leadership & management from the University of San Diego, and a BA in government from Harvard University. Lark Palma has been Catlin Gabel’s head of school since 1995. She holds a PhD in English literature and an MEd from the University of South Carolina, and a BA in English from George Mason University.
Barbara Ostos completed her doctoral dissertation last year at the University of California, San Diego. Her work, Tapping on the Glass: The Intersection of Leadership and Gender in Independent School Administration, explored questions of transformational leadership— how heads of independent schools can provide vision, stability, and inspiration and lead teams of people in cooperative ways—as well as the relationship between leadership style and gender. Her study’s findings, supported by extensive research in the public sector, constitute a call to action for independent schools to develop policies and establish practices that resolve the gender disparity in independent school leadership. You may download her full study


Boyatzis, Chris, E. Chazan, & C. Z. Ting. “Preschool children's decoding of facial emotions.” Journal of Genetic Psychology, 154, 1993.
Costa, Paul, Antonio Terracciano, & Robert McCrae. "Gender differences in personality traits across cultures: robust and surprising findings." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, volume 81, number 2, 2001.
Feingold, Alan. "Gender differences in personality: a meta-analysis." Psychological Bulletin, volume 116, 1994.
Hanlon, Harriet, Robert Thatcher, & Marvin Cline. “Gender differences in the development of EEG coherence in normal children.” Developmental Neuropsychology, 16(3), 1999.
Higgins, E.T. “Development of self-regulatory and self-evaluative processes: costs, benefits, and trade-offs.” In Gunnar, Megan R. & L. Alan Sroufe, editors, Self Processes and Development, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.
Labarthe, Jean Christophe. “Are boys better than girls at building a tower or a bridge at 2 years of age?” Archives of Diseases of Childhood, 77, 1997.
Madigan, Jennifer C. The education of girls and women in the United States: a historical perspective. Montgomery Center for Research in Child & Adolescent Development, Advances in Gender and Education, 1, 2009.
NIH/NIMH. "Sexual dimorphism of brain developmental trajectories during childhood and adolescence." NeuroImage, volume 36, number 4, 2007.
Pomerantz, Eva, Ellen Altermatt, & Jill Saxon. “Making the grade but feeling distressed: gender differences in academic performance and internal distress.” Journal of Educational Psychology, volume 94, number 2, 2002.
Pomerantz, Eva, & Jill Saxon. "Conceptions of ability as stable and self-evaluative processes: a longitudinal examination." Child Development, volume 72, 2001.
Riordan, Cornelius. Girls and boys in school: Together or separate? New York: Teachers College Press, 1990.



Of Leading and Learning

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By Lark P. Palma, PhD, Head of School

In January I was heartbroken to learn of the death of former headmaster Manvel “Schauff” Schauffler, one of the school’smost distinctive and important leaders. He established many practices that continue to this day, about caring for and respecting one other and the school, and about learning through experience. When teachers load students into a bus to go learn firsthand about their community and the world around them—that’s Schauff. I have heard so many stories about the many ways he supported students, moved them towards an understanding of how to act gracefully and compassionately, and made them feel like useful members of the community.
Schauff did that for me, too. He would write me unexpected and encouraging letters about leading Catlin Gabel, knowing that we shared many of the same joys and challenges. I’ve saved all those letters, which are a treasure to me. I hope that we all strive to be as generous as he was, and learn how to make others believe in themselves the way he did.

Ruth Catlin, one of Catlin Gabel’s founders, established her school with the intent “to contribute to the community and its schools an educational laboratory, free to utilize the knowledge and wisdom of leading educators.” This issue of the Caller celebrates Ruth Catlin’s devotion to continued education, and examination of what it means to teach and learn, by featuring the educational research of some of our faculty members and division heads.
Catlin Gabel’s philosophy and practices emphasize equipping educators with the tools they need to provide the best possible education for our students. In practical terms, this means that we offer professional development funds for every teacher and staff member. With this freedom, they can immerse themselves in the latest thinking about their chosen field, learn about best practices in independent schools, meet with their peers to learn how to put new concepts into use, and engage in their own research.
The articles that follow demonstrate the fruits of Catlin Gabel’s commitment to teaching and learning, for both adults and children, and the quest to discover more about how education works best in an independent school. From gender to mathematics to technology, you’ll read about just a very few of the current issues in education that will continue to evolve.  


Breaking News: Lark Palma to Leave Catlin Gabel Next Year

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From the Autumn 2012 Caller


Lark Palma has announced her intention to leave Catlin Gabel at the end of the 2013–14 school year, after 18 years as head of school. Lark has been Catlin Gabel’s longest-serving head, and she will leave a strong and enduring legacy.

Board chair Steve Gordon said, “In providing us ample time for a thorough search, Lark Palma graces Catlin Gabel once again. This will be an inclusive process with involvement from the whole community.” He says that the board will appoint a search committee and hire a search consultancy firm as soon as possible, to begin the nationwide search for a new head of school. The board expects a new head to be in place by the fall of 2014.
Lark will continue her ambitious charge in this year and next as head of school. “In addition to my ongoing commitment to outstanding academic and co-curricular programs, my top priorities are obtaining our continued accreditation with flying colors, and advancing the Campaign for Arts and Minds,” she says.
“I am confident we will finish the campaign in the next two years. I continue to meet with prospective donors, tell our story, and encourage their commitment to Catlin Gabel’s future,” she says. “Many others who appreciate the opportunity to make a difference in the life of our school share my passion for this place.”
A visionary leader, Lark has overseen great advancements in curriculum and fundraising, and enhanced the campus. She brought the Knight Family Scholars program to Catlin Gabel. She has led the charge to review the curriculum across the divisions to create a seamless educational experience for our students in all disciplines. She has revitalized global, outdoor education, and urban studies programs, all of which teach children through experience how to successfully make their way in the world. She has fostered interdisciplinary classes, most recently in environmental science and policy.
Lark says that “buildings are curriculum,” and under her leadership the school built a world-class track and field, remodeled the Beginning School, and built the Upper School library and buildings for math, science, modern languages, and humanities. Construction has begun this fall on a new Creative Arts Center for Middle and Upper School.
Although Catlin Gabel is a small independent school, Lark Palma has earned the stature in our region equivalent to that of a leader in higher education. She has inspired others to join her in this vision for a strong and vital school that adapts to changing times while staying true to its philosophy and mission.
Please check Catlin Gabel’s website for updates on the process as it unfolds. 


The Consummate Professionals

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 From the Autumn 2012 Caller

By Lark P. Palma, PhD, Head of School


No matter what study you reference about school reform, the most important element of successful schools is the excellence and effectiveness of the teacher. Teaching involves an intricate, complex, and challenging set of skills. Teachers may make as many as a thousand choices within one school day, including making quick and nuanced adaptations of the lesson plan, figuring out how to communicate best with each individual student (verbally? through body language?), when to pause effectively, and how to pace the lesson and shape activities to sustain the students’ attention.
Given the complexity of teaching and the solitary nature of a classroom, where a regular feedback loop is not available daily, teachers need and seek feedback on their teaching from peers and supervisors. I ponder the reluctance of teachers nationally to trust evaluation systems that are designed to improve their practice, not to weed them out. Their reluctance is complex – and there may be reasons to be distrustful – but, like any other respected profession, teachers undergo yearly reviews. I am saddened by the teacher-bashing that is the substance of much political discourse, but how can we gain stature as a profession if we resist constructively critical commentary?
Catlin Gabel’s professional growth system, instituted in the late nineties, adopted the work of Charlotte Danielson, an economist, teacher, curriculum specialist, and supervisor in schools for many years. When she was charged to help develop a system for professional growth, she conducted a study of thousands of teachers to identify characteristics of the most successful teachers. The result was Enhancing Professional Practice (Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development, 1996). The elements of highly effective teaching were divided into planning and preparation, class environment, instruction, and professional responsibility. Under each characteristic are numerous behaviors that the teacher and the supervisor reflect on and observe on a continuum, combined with classroom visits and immediate feedback. We adopted her model because the process was sensitive to the diversity of teaching styles, respectful of the complexity of the teaching-learning process, and easily adapted to the mission of our school and our bedrock belief in student-centered, experiential learning. Our goal is to make sure that every teacher at Catlin Gabel is evaluated using this process. The system empowers teachers, in whatever stage in their career, in whatever subject, to move from good to great; great to greater.
We look for teachers from robust national and international candidate pools who have demonstrated the attributes inherent in our professional model. We observe how they teach classes here to our own students, their recommendations from current employers, and through individual reference phone calls. We watch their interactions with our own students very carefully and ask for written evaluations from a committee of older students. They are the best judges. All candidates we select for daylong interviews are experts in their disciplines or grade levels; they are the ones who we can see are magic with students.
We create a superb faculty by starting with superb employees. We give them instructional materials and technology, fund innovation and new team summer planning, and give them freedom and unbridled support to execute innovative ideas. Most importantly, we give these professionals ongoing support at perfecting the art and the craft of teaching.
This issue presents snapshots of teachers who started at Catlin Gabel in four different decades. They share their career development and why they are teachers. They ARE the consummate professionals.